Live Mesh and the Need for More Bandwidth

I’ve recently been playing around with Microsoft’s new Live Mesh Beta, a service that lets you sync files between multiple computers and allows you to RDP into any of them. So far, it’s been really great. I can edit a file on my work PC, open it up at home, then import it in a Windows XP VM. The integration is totally seamless and I’m looking forward to support for mobile devices being available Real Soon Now(TM).

It’s not that what Microsoft is doing is particularly remarkable. I have RDP access to my work PC and I can copy files back to my home PC from that. I can use VNC with a VPN connection to get back to my home PC and transfer files. I can share a folder from my home PC to make it available to my VMs. The trick is that all of those things aren’t exactly seamless or integrated, plus I don’t have the benefit of an online backup with version conflict control, things that Live Mesh offers.

Despite all of this convenience, I found myself frustrated with it this evening as I waited for 50MB worth of database changes and new files to get synced back into the cloud. I ended up waiting about 15 minutes for it to complete, time that I could have been getting work done. That’s when I got a very quantifiable taste of how poor broadband speeds translate into decreased productivity.

With the high price of bandwidth, the company I work for can only afford a 10M/10M pipe. It sounds like a lot until you realize that we have 150+ employees plus our customers trying to cram all of their data onto it including about a dozen teleworkers. It works out to around a single ISDN channel worth of bandwidth per employee. Granted, we’re not all using it at the same time, but a few large uploads or downloads can saturate it.

My home connection isn’t any better. I’ve gone with Comcast, the lesser of two evils, and a paltry 12M/2M connection costs as much as a 20M/10M connection from a UTOPIA provider. I can’t even imagine doing uploads on Qwest’s upload-crippled DSL. While Live Mesh takes the management frustration out of file syncing, it’s held hostage to my connection speed.

The demand for higher upload speeds is there, but don’t count on your local duopoly to come up with a product to meet it, at least not at a price that’s affordable. Phone companies have purposefully restricted their upload speeds to keep from cannibalizing lucrative T1 services, a technology that dates back five decades. Cable companies have no incentive to be more than a little bit better than the phone company; Comcast can claim over twice the upload speed of Qwest, but the connection is still useless for heavy-duty uploading. The “any color you want, as long as it’s black” business model ignores market needs, a direct result of our non-competitive telecommunications landscape.

This is why we need competing transport from UTOPIA. It’s about the only thing keeping Qwest and Comcast on their toes. A reader e-mailed me pictures today of frequent Comcast truck rolls in Brigham City in the small UTOPIA footprint up there. They’re spooked that someone built a better mousetrap and they should be. The product is better, you aren’t locked into a single provider if the service stinks, and you can use the cutting edge products without wasting your entire day transferring data back and forth.

Live Mesh isn’t the only example. I do backups with MozyHome and a large set of changes can take several hours to finish uploading. I don’t even really try streaming my media collection from a remote system anymore since the connection frequently hiccups and is only suitable for music, leaving my vast collection of ripped DVDs chained to my desktop and AppleTV. I don’t get to use my connection for everything I want, pure and simple. Not because I’m blocked, but because the service isn’t up to snuff. Net neutrality may be the cause celeb, but maybe we should be talking upload parity instead.

Caps Without Meaning: Japanese Telco NTT Caps Uploads at 30GB… Per Day

It seems like caps are popping up all over. Comcast, Time Warner, Sprint and Verizon Wireless all have talked about or instituted caps that make users weep, wail and gnash teeth. Now that Japanese telco NTT is getting into the business of caps, we have to wonder if it's just trying to make American ISPs look silly. Their plan? Cut you off after 30GB per dayof upload with unlimited downloads.

What the deuce? That's nearly a terabyte of uploaded data each month, more than even a heavy BitTorrent user is likely to stack up. The implication is that some users, who are shelling out a cool $42/month for a 100Mbps line, are exceeding it by enough to be causing a problem. Meanwhile, US ISPs keep on boosting speeds to make you reach the caps even faster than before.

Apparently the secret sauce in avoiding really small caps is to invest in infrastructure. Verizon's FIOS has no caps and neither do French FTTH providers. XMission offers a generous 500GB soft cap per month on UTOPIA. It's time to get on the fiber bandwagon, guys, instead of pretending that you are.

The Need for Speed: Comcast, Verizon Start Boosting Bandwidth

The race for the speed crown continues as Verizon rolls out 50Mbps/20Mbps service to all of its current FIOS customers. The super-fast tier of service comes at a price of around $150/month, not far off from what Qwest is charging for inferior 20Mbps/896Kbps DSL service. This also prepares Verizon for a fight to the death in the Lone Star State with AT&T's inferior U-Verse service where it plans to overbuild to 600,000 homes in the GTE territories it purchased. I'm sure Qwest is sweating as well; it also borders several Verizon markets and can't compete on speed either.

Comcast also made some speed announcements, bumping upload speeds on the 6Mbps and 8Mbps tiers to 1Mbps and 2Mbps respectively. I've independently speedtested this claim and found that I'm getting a solid 1.3Mbps of upload on my 6Mbps plan. While the plan is to roll out 50Mbps service in multiple markets after testing in the Minneapolis area, that will also come with all kinds of protocol-agnostic throttling and potentially a 250GB monthly transfer cap.

Despite all this increased speed, we're still doing terribly in broadband availability and adoption. OECD numbers show us slipping to 15th out of 30 with China stealing the crown from us for most fixed broadband connections. Caps and throttling are also going to prove highly unpopular as we approach a new variant of Moore's Law that shows IP traffic doubling every two years through at least 2012. Maybe its time for companies to respond to consumer demand for more bandwidth instead of trying to smother it with a pillow, you know?